In an interview with Sputnik, Ismail Hakki Pekin, former head of the intelligence unit of the Chief of Staff of the Turkish army, said that he took part in five behind-the-scenes meetings with representatives of the Syrian intelligence services. He did not conduct formal talks, but instead served as a mediator between Turkey and Syria.
“I took part in five meetings involving representatives of Turkey and Syria. We held the talks to assess the situation in general and determine whether bilateral relations could be restored,” he said. “Much in the same way that Turkey held negotiations with Russia.” Two of the meetings took place in 2015 and three were held this year, he added.
“At that time we had no information regarding any official talks between Ankara and Damascus. If they took place, [President Bashar al-Assad] or someone from the Syrian intelligence services would have told us.” Prior to every meeting in Syria, Ismail Hakki Pekin discussed the issue with representative of the Turkish Foreign Ministry and “received all the necessary information.” When the delegation returned home, it provided a report to the ministry and other Turkish authorities.
The informal meetings primarily revolved around the situation in Syria at the time and security measures, he added.
“We talked to representatives of the Syrian intelligence services. They told us about what was happening in Syria, about the prospects of restoring relations between Turkey and Syria, about working on a joint security concept. We discussed possible steps that Ankara and Damascus could take towards each other,” he explained.
Ismail Hakki Pekin also said that each their report emphasised that it was important to launch official talks on these issues at a low level. Rumors have long circulated that Turkey and Syria were holding secret talks. Both neighbouring countries used to be allies before the foreign-sponsored insurgency morphed into a full-scale war in the Arab country, prompting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cut ties with Assad. For the last five years, Ankara has provided assistance to radical armed groups fighting to overthrow the government in Damascus and establish a caliphate.
Turkish leadership appears to have changed its foreign policy strategy when Binali Yildirim replaced Ahmet Davutoglu, the architect of Ankara’s failed approach to Syria, as the country’s prime minister. Yildirim said that Turkey will focus on making friends, not enemies and improving relations with its embattled neighbour. According to a recent report by Algerian newspaper al-Watan, there has been contact between the two governments mediated by the Algerian government.